27 March, 2008

Southern Escape Day 5

Back to the only “vacation property” I’ll have for a long time, the Mulberry Gap Bunkhouse and some trail time with the Pinhoti. A quick one hour drive south of Ocoee, and we were showered up and beer in hand, walking the property to show Bruce around, and priming our appetites for dinner. We talked a couple ladies into the idea, one of which made it for dinner, the other driving around the NFS roads surrounding the gap for over 4 hours. Determination. She’s now my number one source for Cohutta 100 information, having driven half the course, and in the dark! Some beers with dinner, a few disappearing bottles of red around the fire, a quick soak in the hot tub and it was time for sleep. We had breakfast with the girls and the went on their way, leaving Bruce and I to our relaxed pace ride prep. Our route was east out of the bunk house, up Shakerag towards the Bear Creak parking area. This time we rode past the giant poplar tree, and took a right on the Bear Creek trail, climbing a short section to intersect with the Bear Creek Loop. We took a left here and rolled along a casual logging rode, nicely grassed over and ridden in. (Why can’t the Cohutta folks find roads like this to make up their mileage?) We came to intersection with FS 68 and the Bear Creek Trail, which dropped in through some fun singletrack and led back to our original right hand, where we stayed straight, caught up with the poplar tree again, and rode to the intersection of the Pinhoti trail. I rode this trail rigid a few weeks ago, and downhill bonked, a dangerous cocktail for descending the fast, switchbacked section to FS 90B. This time the 100mm of White Brother’s travel allowed me to open it up again, and the trail really felt like a reward for the preceding climb. Time to do it again, climbing the gravel road to the logging road section of Pinhoti 2 and dropping in. I downhill bonked again on this section, vision got a little blurry and I wasn’t reacting to what is in front of me. Time to pull over and grab a Hammer Gel, shake out the cobwebs, and make my way to the bottom. I reached Consauga Rd. just before Bruce was going to come look for me, and got off the bike, lightheaded, and was able to safely reach the ground before I passed out. The week’s efforts were definitely building, and the mix of exhaustion and adrenaline from the descent had sent my chemistry off kilter. We hung out roadside for a few more minutes, I swallowed some nutrition, and we were off to hit Pinhoti 3, the last remaining section that I hadn’t ridden. This section of the trail, either up or down, is carved into the side of a cliff. Some of the benching is 4 or 5 feet high on the uphill side, and the switchbacks are tight and steep. The initial climb gains every foot of Pinhoti elevation change, in about a third of the distance as the other 2 sections, and once again rewards nicely and without delay. We grinned through the exhaustion, railing bermed turns and catching some safe air off tree root rises. What goes down, must go up, and the final climb up to route 52 broke us. I couldn’t handle the switchbacks or a few steep sections on the 32 x 20, at least not at this point during the week, but I was thankful for the power work out of these last 5 miles. Pinhoti 3 is an out and back, so we turned around and started the descent from the highpoint at route 52. We were looking for a secret trail that led back to the bunkhouse, a trail that was allegedly “near the top.” The search had us on our brakes through this hard earned descent, a fact that will be different the next time around. The secret bunkhouse trail is nearly all the way back at the gravel road, off a switchback on the final descent (initial ascent) of the trail. We made it back to the bunkhouse, grabbed our bang for the buck Heineken keg cans out of their babbling brook chiller and called it a day. Everything went really well on this ride considering we were kind of “exploring” mapless up around Bear Creek. We did see one unmarked trail off the casual loop that will need exploring next time around.Stats: 29.32 miles, 3:18:42 ride time, 5,743 feet climbed, 53% of ride ascending, avg 8.7% grade

Trail Map: Click Here

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